Dugong, turtles in spotlight

A Turtle and Dugong Forum was held to discuss the future of the species in the Great Sandy Strait and the Mary River.
A Turtle and Dugong Forum was held to discuss the future of the species in the Great Sandy Strait and the Mary River. Contributed

TURTLE and dugong populations on the Fraser Coast were a major source of debate earlier this week as Queensland's best marine scientists gathered to debate the future of the two species.

The Queensland Government convened a Turtle and Dugong Forum at Seaworld on Tuesday to discuss water quality, food sources and the lasting affect of the floods on Queensland populations.

Dugongs are found throughout the Great Sandy Strait region and feed on seagrass beds that are heavily affected by the health of the Mary River.

Department of Environment and Resource Management participants at the forum said both species were likely to recover from the heavy impact of the floods if weather improved this summer.

DERM assistant director general Environment and Resource Sciences Dr Christine Williams said weather predictions for the summer were likely to delay seagrass recovery in regions such as Hervey Bay after a heavy impact from the January floods.

Dr Williams said turtle and dugong strandings were likely to be higher than usual for several months due to the low availability of food.

"It is even more important than usual that we do all we can to reduce the human pressures such as boat strike and netting," she said.

Mary River Catchment Co-ordination Committee spokeswoman Tanzi Smith said the group hoped the forum allowed a more comprehensive view of river and water quality in the future.

"The thing not to forget is the health of the river when it is not flooded," she said.

The biggest change the group hopes to see come from such a forum is a review of the Mary River water resource plan.

"The dugongs and turtles in the Great Sandy Strait are at a disadvantage," Ms Smith said.

Flows from rivers in south-east Queensland are often ensured to protect the health of dugong food sources, but the same flow is not guaranteed for the Mary River.

The MRCCC hopes to see that changed before the scheduled 2016 water resource plan review.

"That (fresh water flow) determines a lot of things about sea grass growth," Ms Smith said.

Topics:  derm dugong forum fraser coast turtles

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